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Ukraine updates: Kyiv's forces withdraw from Avdiivka

Published February 17, 2024last updated February 17, 2024

Outnumbered Ukrainian defenders battled a Russian assault for four months in the key city. Ukrainian commander Oleksandr Syrskyi said he had made the decision to avoid encirclement.

Ukrainian army fire artillery towards Russian positions to support frontline troops in the direction of Avdiivka in December 2023
Ukraine faces acute shortages of ammunitionImage: Ozge Elif Kizil/Anadolu/picture alliance
Skip next section What you need to know

What you need to know

Ukrainian troops have withdrawn from the eastern city of Avdiivka to avoid encirclement. 

The chief of Ukraine's armed forces, Oleksandr Syrskyi, said his forces were moving to "more favorable lines."

The withdrawal comes only days ahead of Russia's war in Ukraine entering its third year on February 24.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed agreements with Germany and France, guaranteeing continued support for Kyiv for years. 

This blog is now closed. For more on Russia's war in Ukraine please click here

Skip next section Zelenskyy meets US delegation at Munich Security Conference
February 17, 2024

Zelenskyy meets US delegation at Munich Security Conference

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy held talks with a delegation of Republican and Democratic members of the US House of Representatives and the US ambassador to Germany on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference on Saturday.

Zelenskyy shared a short video clip from the meeting online. 

"We discussed the battlefield situation and the development of defense industries," he wrote. "I also elaborated on Ukraine's progress in drone production." 

This comes amid the deadlock in the lower chamber of Congress on agreeing to the latest package of assistance for Ukraine. 

"We hope that the House of Representatives will make decisions to ensure further necessary US support for Ukraine. We must win this war. And we must do so in unity, defending our shared values," Zelenskyy said.

Skip next section Germany's Rheinmetall to open ammunition factory in Ukraine
February 17, 2024

Germany's Rheinmetall to open ammunition factory in Ukraine

German defense contractor Rheinmetall on Saturday announced that it had signed a memorandum of understanding with a Ukrainian company to open an ammunition facility in Ukraine.

Citing security concerns, no specifics were given as to where the factory would be located or who the Ukrainian partner was.

Rheinmetall would maintain a 51% share of the joint venture, with 49% held by its Ukrainian partner, the company said.

Ukrainian Industry Minister Alexander Kamyshin and Rheinmetall CEO Armin Pappberger signed the agreement on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference (MSC).

Pappberger said the venture represents a, "significant contribution to Ukraine’s defense capacity and will enhance Europe's security."

Rheinmetall, one of the world's largest manufacturers of artillery and tank shells, said it hopes to be able to produce hundreds of thousands of rounds of 155 mm caliber ammunition at the facility, though it did not say when production would begin.

In October, Rheinmetall announced another joint venture with Ukrainian state company UDI, this one to repair Western military vehicles, with plans to eventually produce armored vehicles in Ukraine.

On Monday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz attended a groundbreaking ceremony for yet another Rheinmetall venture, a munitions factory in the northern German town of Unterluss.

The factory is slated to begin producing up to 200,000 NATO-standard 155 mm shells annually after it opens in 2025.

Rheinmetall says it aims to produce some 700,000 shells annually across its European facilities.

It currently produces between 400,000 and 500,000 each year, up from 70,000 prior to Russia's February 2022 invasion of neighboring Ukraine.

Rheinmetall launches construction of ammunition plant

Skip next section Ukraine says it shot down three Russian warplanes
February 17, 2024

Ukraine says it shot down three Russian warplanes

Ukrainian forces shot down two Russian Su-34 fighter-bombers and one Su-35 fighter in the skies over eastern Ukraine, the country's air force chief said.

"On the morning of February 17, 2024, in the eastern (sector), units of the Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine destroyed three enemy aircraft at once  two Su-34 fighter-bombers and one Su-35 fighter," Mykola Oleshchuk wrote on Telegram.

Since receiving advanced Western air defense systems, Kyiv has been able to deploy these weapons to pose an increasing threat to Russian aviation in areas near the front lines.

Skip next section Zelenskyy invites Trump to join him on visit to frontline
February 17, 2024

Zelenskyy invites Trump to join him on visit to frontline

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he was ready to take Donald Trump to the frontlines, as fears grow over sustained US aid to Kyiv should the ex-president return to the White House.

"If Mr Trump will come, I'm ready to go with him to the frontline," the Ukrainian president told the Munich Security Conference. 

"I think if we're in dialogue how to finish the war, we have to demonstrate to people who are decision makers; What does it mean, the real war? Not in Instagram. Real war," Zelenskyy said.

Trump has repeatedly expressed skepticism about further US support for Ukraine.

Skip next section Some Ukrainians captured during Avdiivka withdrawal, military official says
February 17, 2024

Some Ukrainians captured during Avdiivka withdrawal, military official says

Russian forces captured a number of Ukrainian troops during their withdrawal from the eastern city of Avdiivka, a Ukrainian military official said.

Brigadier-General Oleksandr Tarnavskyi said the withdrawal from the city, which Kyiv said was to avoid encirclement, was organized and "carried out in accordance with a plan developed with due regard to various scenarios and possible changes in the operational situation."

"At the final stage of the [withdrawal] operation, under the pressure of the overwhelming enemy forces, a certain number of Ukrainian servicemen were captured," Tarnavskyi wrote on the messaging platform Telegram.

He added that Ukrainian troops were now holding positions on the second line of defense.

Tarnavskyi said that Kyiv will appeal to international humanitarian organizations and intermediary countries "to ensure the enemy treats prisoners of war humanely, in accordance with the norms of International Humanitarian Law, and that our soldiers return to their homeland." 

Skip next section Zelenskyy calls on world to step up efforts against Russia
February 17, 2024

Zelenskyy calls on world to step up efforts against Russia

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called on his country's supporters to step up efforts against Russian aggression and President Vladimir Putin.

"If we don't act now, Putin will succeed in turning the next few years into a catastrophe," he said at the Munich Security Conference.

Zelenskyy warned that the longer the war goes on, the greater the risk of expansion and further damage to the international order.

According to Zelenskyy, Russia has only one decisive advantage in its war of aggression against Ukraine. "Human life has no value for the Russian state," Zelensky says.

Russian President Vladimir "kills whoever he wants," Zelensky said, referring to the death of imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Asked about the withdrawal of Ukrainian forces from the eastern city of Avdiivka, Zelenskyy said the decision was made to save Ukrainian lives by withdrawing troops.

Skip next section 4 killed in Ukraine shelling of Donetsk, Moscow official says
February 17, 2024

4 killed in Ukraine shelling of Donetsk, Moscow official says

Four people were killed and four others were injured in what a Moscow-installed local official said was a Ukrainian attack on the Russian-occupied region of Donetsk.

Dmitry Shevchenko, proxy head of the local Yasynuvata municipality, said that Kyiv targeted the town of Panteleimonivka, which is some 20 kilometers (12 miles) northeast of Donetsk city.

Four people were killed, including a girl born in 2009, and six people were injured, including a girl born in 2013 and a boy born in 2015, as a result of the morning shelling, Shevchenko said in a statement on the Telegram messaging platform.

The authenticity of his report on the shelling could not be independently verified.

Both Russia and Ukraine have recently accused one another of an escalation in attacks targeting civilian areas.

Skip next section Ammunition shortages contribute to Ukrainian withdrawal from Avdiivka
February 17, 2024

Ammunition shortages contribute to Ukrainian withdrawal from Avdiivka

A Ukrainian serviceman
The 110th Brigade of the Ukrainian army deployed in Avdiivka said the defenders were fighting under "inhumane conditionsImage: GENYA SAVILOV/AFP

Ukrainian troops withdrew from the eastern city of Avdiivka, Kyiv announced on Saturday, amid acute ammunition shortages.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby warned Thursday that Avdiivka was at risk of falling to Russia, a development he blamed "in very large part" on the fact that Ukrainian forces are running out of artillery ammunition.

With US military aid delayed for months in Congress, Ukraine is facing acute ammunition shortages.

At the same time, the setback strengthens President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's plea for urgent Western military support ahead of his address at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday.

Skip next section Ukrainian withdraw forces from Avdiivka
February 17, 2024

Ukrainian withdraw forces from Avdiivka

Ukraine's military says it was withdrawing its troops from Avdiivka after months of fierce Russian attacks.

The chief of Ukraine's armed forces, Oleksandr Syrskyi, said he ordered the withdrawal to avoid encirclement.

"In a situation where the enemy is advancing over the corpses of their own soldiers with a ten-to-one shelling advantage, under constant bombardment, this is the only right decision," he said.

"Encirclement was prevented, personnel were withdrawn, and our soldiers took up defense at the designated lines." Syrskyi added.

It marks the most significant change on the front line since Russian troops seized the nearby town of Bakhmut.

Capturing the eastern city is key to Moscow's aim of securing complete control of the two provinces that comprise the industrial Donbas region.

They have been trying to capture Avdiivka since October 2023, suffering heavy losses. 

Skip next section Summary of Friday's events
February 17, 2024

Summary of Friday's events

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed off on an "ambitious" security deal Friday with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris. The deal will last 10 years and includes a French promise of up to €3 billion ($3.2 billion) in aid for 2024.

Earlier, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Zelenskyy signed a bilateral security agreement valued at €1.1 billion ($1.18 billion) to help in the fight against Russia's invasion.

Germany and Ukraine sign long-term security pact

Also on Friday, the Germany-based Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW) said the European Union would need to double its military funding to Ukraine to fill a gap left by a possible US withdrawal.

"It is highly uncertain whether the US will send further military aid in 2024," the researchers said in a new report on the state of play of military, financial, and humanitarian aid to the war-battered country since the Russian invasion on February 24, 2022.

Russia's defeat in Ukraine in US interest, ex-commander says

ss/lo (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)